When Criterion’s Alex Ward defended his game’s mechanics venomously against torrents of abuse after the Burnout Paradise demo earlier in the year, TSA started to wonder whether he was really right not to take the public’s opinion into account. After all, if everyone was complaining about the lack of an instant-restart that wasn’t going to be changed in the final release, then surely he was only upsetting his potential customers. Well, now we’ve finally completed everything there is to do in Paradise, how do the sticking points sit with us?
Your first trip to Paradise is an overwhelming one: the starter car is already exponentially faster than most racing games ever peak at, the open world is massive and the sheer wall of things to get through after the quick introduction (and too slim manual) is about 10 layers too high: Burnout Paradise is a huge game, no doubt about it, and you’re dropped in the deep end with nothing but a tank of nitro and a map.
Freeburn is the best place to start, and it’s the mode activated already for you when you pop the disk in – cruise around the world of Paradise City, get used to the newly tweaked handling and all the controls, options and features at your fingertips. Now’s probably the time to get used to the ‘Easy Drive’ menu: borrowed from Test Drive Unlimited, Easy Drive lets you access the most commonly used menu options just by tapping the d-pad and includes Friend invites and various multiplayer settings.
Freeburn also gives the player the opportunity to start collecting Paradise’s multitude of Rare-like tokens, albeit ones based around reckless driving. You’re rewarded for smashing barriers, jumping through billboards, performing super jumps and even stuntdriver-esque parking. Do enough of these and extra cars will appear in your junkyard for use at your discretion.
Showtime is also available from Freeburn (although not initially) which is Paradise’s interpretation of earlier Crash modes: tap both L1 and R1 and you’ll enter Showtime, which is a slow motion, after-touch controlled destruction derby with buses acting as multipliers. Shallow, perhaps, but coupled with the game’s Road Rules system makes for oddly addictive competition. Road Rules are another new feature for this particular Burnout, and each individual street in the game has both a best time and a best crash, and the online integration is stellar here as you and your friends get instant updates as to who possesses the best scores for each road. Clever.
Each set of traffic lights also contains one of several event types. Simply pull up to a junction and tap L2 and R2 and without any delay you’re immediately in that particular event, which can range from simple racers with computer controlled cars, Road Rage which requires a set number of takedowns, Marked Man in which you must simply reach the destination with your car still drivable, and Stunt Run, which is a combo-based trick session against the clock. Time Trial fans will welcome the return of the tricky car-specific Burning Routes, too.
These events where the major bugbear during the demo of the game, and to be honest we think they work perfectly well. For starters there are far more events in the full game, so if you fail one simply driving around will usually present another fairly quickly, and secondly Ward’s vision of complete immersion (remember, Paradise has no load times) is retained by not allowing the player an instant-teleport option. It’s worth mentioning that most events only have eight possible finish locations (once for each compass point) which is a bit odd, but doesn’t spoil the experience in any way.
The aforementioned junkyard functions as the player’s garage: simply drive to one and you can select any of your unlocked vehicles and paint styles, and Paradise has three other drive-through systems: the gas station refills your boost, the auto repair fixes any dents and the paint shop gets you a brand new look. Each car has various statistics and you’ll find most fit into one of three types: stunt, aggression or speed, which loosely match up with the 120 Stunt, Road Rage and Race event types mentioned above.
As we’ve said briefly, multiplayer is handled brilliantly in Burnout Paradise – the connection between single and online player is handled seamlessly via a player invite or opting to host your own game for others to join. Whether you and your mates want to cruise around in Freeburn mode, get involved with races or attempt to plug through the masses of multiplayer-only challenges (which are great fun) the scope for replayability is sky-high and it’s all so slick you wonder why every other game has to feature separate menus. Even the PlayStation Eye is used to great effect, with your mugshot being snapped during Takedowns for the benefit of other drivers.
The visuals shine, too, with a rock solid 60 frames per second and plenty of next-gen whizz flying around the screen, although this isn’t new for the Burnout series. Crash replays, the Junkyard selection screen and the whole scale of the free-roaming landscape are frequently jaw dropping, and coupled with the beefy, crunchy sound effects gives the game a real solid feel. Some of the music sucks but it’s the standard EA Trax affair so we didn’t expect anything different this time around.
Paradise is a wonderful game: it’s inventive, confident and brilliantly produced and just shows what’s possible when developers make the PS3 the lead console. If you’re even remotely into racing games, this is one you can’t afford to miss out on.